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REVIEW AND COMMENT

POET'S VISION
Breaking with the "Waste Land" tradition, poetry reasserts its dynamic role in society. Samuel Putnam
discusses Genevieve Taggard s new collection of verse, Long View.

time-honored calling as seers which is repel-

I
N HIS fine and stimulating book, Illusion n e o - B a u d e l a i r e a n "correspondences," the
and Reality, the late Christopher Caudwell Imagists (more belated than they realized) lent to this: they cannot be no-sayers forever;
has defined a poem as "a world of more by turning a poem into a Monet haystack. they must find egress somewhere, somehow.
important reality not yet realized, whose I t was with the first world war, on the Like T . S. Eliot, from a M r s . Porter wash-
realization demands the very poetry which morrow of the great holocaust, that a de- ing her feet in soda water they may go on to
fantastically anticipates it." Poetry, he goes cisive break occurred, one of those sudden end with the writing of Sunday school can-
on to say, "exhibits a reality beyond the re- changes, of an earthquake-like intensity, such tatas, or something at not a far remove from
ality it brings to birth . . . it expresses a as are known in the realm of nature and of that. In other words, seeing no way out of
whole new world of truth—its emotion, its society, and which represent the nodal point the desert, they may end by climbing a cac-
comradeship, its sweat, its long-drawn-out of a long preceding process of evolutionary tus tree. In any case they must make an effort
wait and happy consummation." And he con- change. This break came with the movement to recapture, somewhere along the line, their
cludes: " N o t poetry's abstract statement—its known as Dada, born of postwar disillusion- dream, that dream which has lain always at
content of facts, but its dynamic role in society ment. From the start Dada was anti-poetic, the heart of their task, conferring upon them
—its content of collective emotion, is there- just as it was anti-literature, anti-music, anti- their "dynamic role in society."
fore poetry's truth." painting, anti—everything "bourgeois." In I t is worth noting that Dada was short-
I t is significant that Genevieve Taggard, brief, these sons of the French bourgeoisie lived. Almost immediately out of the nega-
in the notes at the end of her latest volume were out to slay the "reality" of their fathers tion of Dada there began evolving the at-
of poems. Long View (Harper and Bros., who had made the war and the afterwar tempted affirmation of the surrealists. In their
$2) should cite the passage of Caudwell world; and in the excess of their reaction revolt against the good burgher's humdrum
from which these extracts- are taken. A poet, they would do away with the whole of hu- and unlovely reality, the surrealists endeav-
the true poet, knows his own reflection in a man culture that had gone before and re- ored to erect an esthetic wholly founded on
mirror and Caudwell's words might serve place it with the syllabic stammerings of un- the dream and the dream-state, and they
as a gloss on Miss Taggard's work. "Song," tutored man. extended the dream to include the further-
say the author of Lonff View, "is collective. Dada produced a laugh, was meant to most reaches of paranoia. Better be mad than
(Poetry should b e . ) " It is, however, under produce a laugh; but as this reviewer has said be bourgeois, might have been their motto.
the aspect of a "reality not yet realized" that before, it was at the same time a tragic phe- Meantime they sought to keep an anchorage
the most rewarding approach may be made nomenon. Whatever the dubious fruits of in the world of sanity through talk of a "sur-
to Genevieve Taggard's poetry. Dada, it has left its indelible brand on the realist revolution," a "revolution in conscious-
Caudwell's statement and the poems in this poetry of the past quarter-century. T h e best ness," etc., which they for a while strove to
volume which are by way of being an exem- poetry, the poetry that deserves to be called associate with social revolution.
plification of that statement, bring into sharp modern, from the Waste Land to the present T h e sorry outcome of it all is too well
focus the problem that is basic to all poetry, day, has been, deep in its essence, anti-poetic, known for repetition. Andre Breton, the
and one which, in the years that have fol- in its austere refusal to embellish with esthetic- leader of the movement, pronounced the epi-
lowed the last war, has taken on a height- isms the unesthetic reality that they knew. taph of surrealist poetry, when he said: " T h e
ened and even a passionate intensity. All But poets could not in the nature of things life of the Paris Commune has left art where
poets worthy of the name, all those who have stop here, with a mere negation however it was so far as its own problems are con-
not been content with the simple psalmody striking and forceful. There is that in their cerned; since the Commune, as before it, the
of a Longfellow or the running-brook cheer- great themes of poet and artist have continued
fulness of a Tennyson, have been preoccu- to be the succession of the seasons, nature,
pied ever with this thing that men call the woman, love, the dream, life, and death." In
real, the real of every day, and the glaring other words, the old "eternal verities" which
disparity between this quotidian reality and any conventional poet would accept. If we
that higher, that "super" reality which they look at the one first-rate poet whom the Sur-
know, or would know, in what they are realists may claim, rightly or wrongly, as their
pleased to call their dreams. own, Paul Eluard, we see this illustrated per-
M a r x and Engels once described the nine- fectly. Eluard is one of the best love poets
teenth century as "the century hostile to of modern times, but no one would call
poetry." I t is in any event certain that, from him a revolutionary. And Breton fitly sealed
the mid-nineteenth century on, poets sought his renunciation, surrealism's abdication, last
dying gasp of Dada, by affiliating with
more and more to escape from an ugly en-
Trotskyism.
vironment through the creation of a more-
than-real or better-than-real world of their But still there remains the modern poet's
own. T h i s is the, meaning which must be seen task, which is: to make the anti-poetic poetic.
in the efforts of the Romantic-Bohemians, the I t seemed for a time, in the 1930's, as if this
Parnassians, the Symbolists, the Imagists, and was being accomplished, as if it might be ac-
all the others. Mallarme and his followers complished, by the N e w Country poets in
strove to do it through transpositions and Genevieve Taggard England, young poets infused with a fresh

NM June 9. 1942 23
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life-giving proletarian sap and fired by the likely, that she would not have written as:
blinding vision of loyalist Spain. They could she did; she might have written somewhat,
Next Week in NEW MASSES not hold the vision, hovirever, and most of as Genevieve Taggard writes today.
them have novp become very old-country in-
The wind walks
LEO HUBERMAN deed, appear to be casting about for the
nearest cactus. They none the less repre- bringing change.
sented an important advance over their sur-
Outstanding labor journalist realist and Waste Land forerunners, in that W i t h the poem "First" it is interesting to
writes on they had begun to lay hold of the true nature compare " I n the Shell Hole of the W o r l d . "
of the poet's dream today, that realizable Here the eerie quality fades; there is no more
surreality vi'hich is a reality over one-sixth twilight, but bright and ringing day, bright
THE STORY OF with the anvil's clang. Here is the New Coun-
of the earth. They had glimpsed something
HARRY BRIDGES of "its emotion, its comradeship, its sw^eat, try being forged in the vast constructive
its long-draw?n-out w^ait and happy consum- anguish of this hour:
mation," they could not see it through.
Who knows? In another country
They learned the time, and how to tell it.
A. B. MAGIL W HAT gives Genevieve Taggard her un-
questionably distinctive place among
It sounds fanatic I know
But they learned how to make it, too.
WHAT ABOUT POST-WAR contemporary poets is the fact that she has They learned how to make morning, in a
PLANNING? succeeded as few^ others have done in cap- manner of speaking;
turing, and welding into the hard, firm body They made morning while they sat in dark-
of her work, this supra-real in process of be- ness;
cominff the real. T h i s means that her poet's Or you might say, they worked in darkness,
vision is a dynamic and not a static one, being morning came, and they were ready.
GEN. I6NACI0 forged out of day-to-day contact with an ever-
changing reality.
How can we learnf Are you suref
Come with me. Come with me.
HIDALGO DE CISNEROS Thought, fact-hard, non-static, hazardous and
(Are you sure? Are you ready?)

For the dream has to be hammered, ham-


Chief of the Spanish iron-strange
Glows, is forged again and again in daily mered out; and Miss Taggard devotes one
Republican Air Force section of her book to what might be called
clang upon an anvil.
techniques for morning-making. These are
A SPANIARD LOOKS AT THE essentially social poems, ranging in theme
In these two lines she has given us a defini-
SECOND FRONT from the migratory worker, starvation in
tion of her heart. This is the way in which
America, and the alien in our midst to Spain
the drearn is wrought. T h e dream that Lenin
and the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. A sepa-
dreamed and loved. rate and resplendent section is devoted " T o
Let us dream (says L e n i n ) , but on con- the Negro People"; no reader can afford to
Get Those Muscles Moving ation that we take our dream seriously, that miss the poem on Marian Anderson, "Proud
for Defense we observe real life attentively and confront Day," or the "Chant for the Great Negro
our observations xvith our dream, and that Poet of America Not Yet Born." T h e volume
REDUCE OR GAIN we see to it, scrupulously, that our dream is also contains two of Miss Taggard's well
made reality. (Quoted by Romain Rolland, known texts for music, "Prologue" and " T h i s
RELAX — K E E P FIT!
in Compagnons de Route.) Is O u r T i m e , " accompanied by a set of pro-
SEPARATE DAYS FOR vocative "Notes on W r i t i n g Words for
MEN— WOMEN T h e dream, that is to say, must be "fact- Music." These pieces like the others are filled
INDIVIDUAL EXERCISE — SAFEDISH MASSAGE —
h a r d " ; but it need lose nothing of its char- with intimations of " T h e expanding dawn,
POSTURE CORRECTION — VAPOR BATHS — acteristic dream-like quality; it remains "haz- T h e enduring Light."
BICYCLES — WALKING MACHINES — HANDBALL ardous and iron-strange"—iron-strange, and
In conclusion it may be said that Miss T a g -
— PADDLE TENNIS — BODY BUILDING — glowing. In the hands of a capable poet like
gard combines in a peculiarly feminine way
ROOF GYM — ETC. Miss Taggard, indeed, where the transmuta-
(employing the adjective with no lingering
tion is instantaneous-seeming and effective,
Modest Fees hint of male chauvinism) the delicate-keyed
it takes on a new strangeness that is stranger
intensity of an Emily Dickinson with the
GOODWIN'S GYMNASIUM than strange, as in her remarkable poem,
expansiveness of a W a l t Whitman. W i t h
1457 Broadway at 42nd St. "First." Here we have an eerie mingling
her it is at once "Long View" and "circum-
Wisconsin 7-8250 of the motive of social change with the chang-
ference" and this it is that makes of her a
ing changelessness of nature, that creates an
unique figure among the most significant of
atmosphere, a "climate," all its own. In this
our present-day poets.
particular poem you have it in distillation,
SAMUEL PUTNAM.
so to speak, but it more or less pervades her
BUY XJ S work as a whole, just as a sense of a meta-
physical wrestling with nature, or in the terms
of nature, does that of Emily Dickinson.
W A R BONDS Had Emily Dickinson lived today instead
of in the Gilded Age, it is not inconceivable
that she would have forsaken her battles with
and religion and her inner and outer solitude for
something which—-she might have found—at
once satisfied her need for a "whole new
SAVINGS STAMPS world of truth" and brought her close to her
fellow men. In which case it is possible, even

24 J-une 9, 1942
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